Research Team Aims to Crowdsource Gowanus Canal Clean Up

A research team from NYU's Polytechnic Institute is recruiting volunteers to help sort through data being collected in Brooklyn's polluted Gowanus Canal.

The data is collected by a robotic rover — the first of several they hope to launch soon — with sensors that measure the water’s pH, oxygen levels, temperature and salinity. The rover will also take photos above and below the water’s surface. 

All the data is then sent to a web site where so-called "citizen scientists" can assist in classifying the images that will help researchers make connections between environmental conditions and the wildlife in the canal

"Any ordinary citizen can tag the images and basically tell us about what they see in the picture," said Oded Nov, assistant professor at NYU-Poly.  "And this data can then be used to map patterns of life and other environmental things in the canal that can help in the cleaning effort."

Analyzed data from the project will be shared with the community and with the Environmental Protection Agency, which designated the canal a Superfund site in 2010.

Researchers say their crowd-sourced project could be a model for responding to environmental disasters such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Using a system of data collection and analysis that utilizes both robots and the community could speed emergency response and remediation, they say.

"As scientists, we can get much more work done,” Nov said. “For basic analysis, you don't need a Ph.D. Any person with some training, or even without training, can help a lot in classifying objects in tagging objects and just writing what they see."

Volunteers can tag photos on the Brooklyn Atlantis web site.